As a frog in the well, being self taught, one did not know about the ritual for casting the yarrow stalks until one came across an I Ching translation given to me by my youngest sister before she went to live in the United States with her family. Since the cover mentioned it was edited with an introduction by Raymond Van Over, it had been left in the book shelf for the past six years gathering dust. Ha, if only one knew that it was the translation by none other than the renowned James Legge, one would not have spent time accessing it in the net.
Under the ‘Casting the Yarrow Stalks’ section, this paragraph was dedicated to an elaborate ritual of casting yarrow stalks:
“In China and with some practitioners in the West the ritual of approaching the oracle is begun by facing the south, the Book of Changes in front of one, with a small incense tray and a receptacle nearby to hold the yarrow stalks. After prostrating himself to the ground the enquirer begins by burning some incense. Then he takes the fifty yarrow stalks and holds them horizontally in his right hand, passing them three times through the incense smoke, rotating them clockwise. During this ritual the questioner should be mentally repeating his question to himself. The greater and more perfect his concentration, the better able he will be to communicate with the oracle.”
In the next paragraph, it merely said: “The oracle user naturally does not have to use any of this ritual. He can simple begin, once his questions is clearly framed in his mind by picking up the fifty divining stalks. Holding them in his right hand he removes one and sets it aside, not to be used again.” Before moving on to describe the process of casting the remaining forty nine stalks.
Well, letting students know about the ritual without giving the reasons for it can create confusion. Then by simply dismissing the ritual and simplifying the process of consultation in the next paragraph the editor (?) seems not to understand it. Since one did not know about the ritual until last week which explains my ‘frog in the well’ remark, it serves no purpose if one adds to the confusion by giving half baked ideas on how the ritual arose. Therefore one describes my simple approach before the actual casting of yarrow stalks.
It is correct to show respect for the ancient Book of Changes otherwise there is no point in consulting the Oracle. With proper continual use of the Oracle and the Yarrow stalks, over the years, ‘Ling Qi’ (good spirits) may accumulate in the Book and the Stalks (or coins) for divinations depending on the spirituality level of each diviner. Do note that our palms emit Qi. Therefore it is advisable not to ask frivolous questions or store the Zhouyi and Stalks (or coins) anywhere you like. Asking frivolous questions and improper storing of the Book and Stalks (or coins) show a marked disrespect for things ancient.
One places the Zhouyi, yarrow stalks held in a bamboo receptacle, and a journal on top of a wardrobe, or the highest suitable place in my room. A foldable table is designated for the consultations. When one has to consult the Yi, one unfolds and wipes the table clean before placing it facing the front windows. The journal is placed on the table for writing down the question (with the time and date) once it has been framed mentally. The Zhouyi is placed further in front nearest to the windows. The bamboo receptacle containing the yarrow stalks is placed on the right hand side of the table. A pen and paper is also placed on the table for writing and for jotting down the number of remaining stalks that would eventually made up all six lines of a hexagram.
Taking out the fifty yarrow stalks, one is set aside and placed on top of the Zhouyi (treating it like incense) leaving forty nine stalks for the casting. One will continue to think about the question written on the journal placed in front while performing the actual casting. Since both the Wilhelm and the Legge translations have described the casting method in detailed no need arises to further describe it here.
This simple approach works for me for the past few decades. Perhaps those who wish to consult the Yi with yarrow stalks can use it as a guide if they find the approach simple and easy.
Relevant entries – A case for Yarrow stalks, April 11; Permanent Records July 14;